Sunday, 21 September 2014

Aunt Jenifer’s Tigers –a critical analysis of one of the Lessons from the CBSE that inspire a following

The poem Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers, a poem a set of three quatrains in three stanzas describes the difficulties and problems of matrimony from the woman’s point of view. The poem itself has a rather sad tone, and is filled with a sense of helplessness, and the poignancy of a woman crying out for help but not getting any and then finally succumbing to the ravages of matrimony. The two characters in the poem, Aunt Jennifer and Uncle are two distinct characters diametrically opposed to each other in terms of character traits, and accepted stereotyped roles. While Aunt Jennifer is the typical example of the married woman who is wedded to the chores of Matrimony, while Uncle is the typical married man who takes his woman for granted, and yes, he doesn’t bother really much about how his wife feels about matrimony. Do they love each other? I guess not as far as Uncle is concerned because, perhaps we don’t see very much of him in the poem, although the very physical absence of Uncle in the poem, beyond a rather shadowy presence, highlights his lack of interest in Aunt Jennifer and Matrimony. Throughout the poem however one doesn’t find a direct criticism of Uncle by Aunt Jennifer as a harsh or cruel man, all that she accuses is an Institution of matrimony that is based on unequal relations between husband and wife, where the wife is expected to do all the household duties and everything else besides, no matter if she is in the process overwhelmed by the chores and the responsibilities that she has taken up!Yes, the poem does deal with feminism and the social implications of a marriage that is not "healthy!" Though Adrienne Rich does not mention Domestic Violence openly, the hints are there when she states in the first stanza, "They do not fear the men beneath the tree;" assuming that in the real world "men" are hunters! Domestic Violence is not limited to physical abuse, in fact it could also include mental and emotional abuse. The lines, "Aunt Jennifer's fingers fluttering through her wool Find even the ivory needly hard to pull," a hyperbole suggests that Aunt Jennifer is exhausted, shattered and close to a total physical and emotional breakdown! That this story was really experienced  or conveyed to Adrienne Rich needs to be researched. One can also surmise that the extreme views, this morbidity and dark thoughts might be the result of an active imagination of a young girl of say twelve or thirteen who lends her voice to the poem.
Is there a sense of fear in the poem towards Uncle? The third line in the first stanza reads, ‘They do not fear the men beneath the tree’, where ‘They’ refers to the two prancing tigers, and the ‘men’ represent men that are definitely not like Uncle! The very use of the word,’fear’ suggests that in this marriage, Aunt Jennifer has always lived in ‘fear’ of her husband and moreover the first stanza is an expression of a desire for a world  where the tigers ‘do not fear men’ where the tigers are the symbolical representations of what Aunt Jennifer wished to have been if there had been more freedom and equality in marriage. The prancing tigers on the screen are a cry of help by Aunt Jennifer for a married life devoid of fear, a more carefree and pleasant, she wants to be like the tigers who are prancing without any fear, she wants to be like the tigers that,’pace in sleek chivalric certainty.’ It is only when you live in a state of fearlessness that you can display chivalry, and confidence.
How can the demands of matrimony crush the spirit? The second Stanza shows how the duties, chores, and responsibilities of matrimony have crushed the spirit of Aunt Jennifer, literally and symbolically. Aunt Jennifer is so overwhelmed and crushed by the demands of matrimony that she has become a nervous wreck – she finds it difficult to pull the knitting needles through the wool while knitting. In this stanza, the poet refers to the ‘wedding band’ that ‘Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand’ suggesting that matrimony has proved to be rather overwhelming and burdensome for her. The wedding band, a symbol of  the bond of togetherness in matrimony, has become  for Aunt Jennifer, more of a symbol of subservience and service, an endless life of duties, and chores and responsibilities a symbol of exclusion, exploitation and inequality between two partners in marriage.
Does death bring liberation from the ordeals and responsibilities of marriage? The last stanza ends describes how even after death, poor Aunt Jennifer will continue to be haunted by the ordeals of marriage. Even in death, she will be ‘Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.’ Has marriage been good to Aunt Jennifer? I would dare to say, that it hasn’t been kind to her at all. As a contrast, however we are told how, the last two lines, ‘The tigers’ that she had created, ‘Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.’ Perhaps then, there is some hope for Aunt Jennifer in that her tigers will go on prancing and proud. If it is to set a contrast between what Aunt Jennifer wished and what she got in the end, the gulf that exists between what we wish for in life and what we get ultimately, then I would surely state that the last two lines of the poem which describe the prancing tigers add insult to injury and make the poem all the more depressing a comment about the worst that could happen in marriage; but then, if you look at the prancing tigers as a voice of triumph, triumph of creation, a voice of freedom pride and fearlessness, then I would suggest that the poem ends with a sense of hope, a note of victory, that at least Aunt Jennifer could express her feelings about marriage, and that she was able to create a voice of fearlessness which would go on echoing long after her death. The tigers thus are very strong symbols of the kind of woman that Aunt Jennifer wanted to be, fearless, confident, and carefree!
It was after a few years that someone who had been teaching English to grade twelve came up with the information that Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers was based on actual autobiographical elements in the life of the writer, Adrienne Rich. I was surprised about this because I had never really though about going deep into the background of the poet’s life, although my interpretation of the poem had been accurate enough even without knowing about the poet. Now whether it was an actual Aunt that Adrienne Rich was referring to or her own case, is immaterial since the poem Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers has a clear theme and is easily understood. She has clearly written about a social problem that existed in her times as well as ours, the unending conflict, the debate regarding gender inequality in marriage. While it is true there are some marriages  that are very successful examples of partnership, where the wedding band symbolizes not the shackles of inequality, but rather the bonds of togetherness; there are other marriages which are examples of brutality, dehumanization, victimisation, and pain and suffering. Marriages that are based on fear and inequality will always have an Aunt Jennifer, that terrified and devastated woman who will continue to be frightened even in death!
The voice according to some of my fellow teachers is that of a girl, probably in her early teens who is very close to Aunt Jennifer. In all probability, the girl has morbid and a somewhat active imagination who thinks ahead of time and wonders if the stress and burden of marriage will not lead to Aunt Jennifer's troubled death. One might blame the disturbing and rather disquieting images of death and imprisonment as being the result of what a young girl sees in her aunt and how she views matrimony. Here, I would like to add that this is a poem with a very clear theme and message, one does not need to do extensive reseach into Adrienne Rich's reasons for writing such a poem!

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